10 Things I Learned as a Gym Newbie
Updated: Mar 27
I'm new to working out and it's made me a better nutritionist.
It’s been about 6 weeks since I started going to the gym. It feels awkward and uncomfortable at times, I’m a newbie and I’m experiencing all the growing pains that go with that.
Learning new dietary habits is not so different. There will be words you don’t know. Equipment you haven’t used before. Some start-up costs. You’ll stand awkwardly in grocery store aisles reading labels or asking for help finding ingredients you haven’t used before. Things will go “wrong”, life will get in the way of your plans. Your body and mind will fight you at times. You may need to call in a friend or expert when you hit a hurdle or just need some accountability & motivation. There will be times when it feels like how hard you’re working doesn’t equal the results you’re seeing, you’ll need to be patient. You won’t always be able to stick 100% to your plan, it’s important to do as much as you can and focus on progress not perfection. The “best way” is the way that you enjoy, can stick to long term, and that moves you in the direction of your goals.
1. It can be expensive
There are some initial start-up costs that come with both. I ended up getting a gym membership, some clothes, shoes a lock. I also paid for a few classes with a trainer to help me get started (more on her later). These initial investments are well worth it but at first can cause some hesitation. Will I stick with it? Will it be worth it? With nutrition, everyone comes from a different starting point but making changes may involve you getting some kitchen basics like spices, knives, cutting boards or appliances like a blender, or support from a professional.
2. It can be intimidating
When I first walked into the gym I didn’t know how to use ANY of the equipment (okay maybe the treadmill) or even what half of it was called. I didn’t know how what I was doing was supposed to be make me feel or which muscles I was supposed to be working. Do I pull that thingy or push that thing? I stood and read instructions on equipment or looked things up on my phone. It felt like a learning new language in a foreign country. Nutrition can also be a foreign language at first. Cooking and trying new recipes and ingredients can be daunting. Keep it simple, focus on one thing you want to try or one terminology you want to understand. Give yourself time and compassion while you’re learning something new. My goal has been to figure out one new piece of equipment each time I go!
3. Numbers aren’t everything, but they sure can be motivating
I try to steer my clients away from focusing solely on the number on the scale, but when I got really excited about increasing the weights I was lifting, it reminded me how motivating numbers can be. They aren’t everything, but they’re one piece of data. After 6 weeks the scale hadn’t shifted for me. If I had been monitoring my success by only the number on the scale, I would be feeling like I had achieved nothing. Instead I'm looking at subjective targets like energy, mood, sleep as well as muscle development (muscle weighs more than fat so if you’re exercising and not loosing weight on the scale, you may be building muscle and losing fat). I absolutely understand how physical metrics matter and are important but also ask yourself this: if you could be in your "dream body" but feel exhausted, depressed, anxious, have insomnia and have no libido, would you choose that option? It’s an extreme example but it highlights the fact that these more subjective metrics are equally if not more important than the objective ones.
4. Listen to your body
You will always be able to tell what feels right in your body better than anyone else. There were times when I had a workout planned but something felt off in my shoulder, knee or lower back, so I would back off and work something else. With both nutrition and exercise it’s important to learn the difference between uncomfortable vs. painful to know when you’re pushing your limits in a healthy way vs. doing damage.
5. It will be uncomfortable at times
And this doesn’t just mean physically. There may be other things you need to address before doing the things you want to do. I tried to go to the gym and run a few years ago but at that time I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. Raising my heart rate was triggering to me, it mimicked symptoms of a panic attack and would make me extremely anxious. I wanted to run but I had to deal with my anxiety first. With diet, yoga and natural supplements my anxiety doesn’t affect me in the same way and now raising my heart rate feels good. Making lifestyle changes is never just about the specific thing you’re changing, it affects everything. A new way of eating may bring up resistance and strong emotions, be prepared for that, acknowledge it and take steps to work through it.
6. You need to be ready to pivot
You will run into obstacles, get ready to pivot. Sore legs when you planned to run? Child home sick when you planned to go to the gym during the day? Getting bored of your routine? No time to food prep this week? Grocery store didn’t have the ingredient you wanted? Unexpected social event? If you let these uncontrollable life events de-rail you each time, it will be hard to build habits, maintain consistency and achieve lasting change. Get ready to be flexible and do the best with the time and resources you have available to you.
7. Sometimes you need an expert, even when you can “find everything” on the internet
I recently heard a podcast that said something along the lines of “there is no lack of information in our world, but there’s a lack of wisdom on how to use that information.” I love this! You can find everything on the internet but that doesn’t mean you’ll know how it applies to your situation or how to do it in a healthy and safe way. I called in the big guns (Amy Slemko, personal trainer and body builder extraordinaire) who gave me some personal training sessions as well as group sessions to learn new exercises and how to do them properly for my body. It was also fun having someone help me get started, and connecting with the person you're working with matters! I’m looking forward to continuing to work with her and learning from her. There’s so much I don’t know, and I’m okay with that. The same thing often happens with nutrition, you can find so much information on the internet, but if you’re having trouble making this information simple, actionable and effective for you, it may be worth looking into working with someone who can help.
8. Patience is key
I had this idea in my head of how different I would look after 6 weeks of going to the gym 5x/week. 6 weeks!? That’s A LOT right? RIGHT!? 6 weeks is a great start but habits and health don’t develop overnight. Think of how many years it took you to get where you are – it’ll take some time to change that too. Focus on progress not perfection. Results aren’t instant, but be consistent and they’ll come! Maybe 12 weeks..? Here’s hoping!
9. You have to just do you
It’s hard to not look around and check out other people’s progress, strategies, bodies.. Try to use others to inspire, motivate and teach you but in the end success comes from keeping your head down and focusing on you. Do you follow fitness models or nutrition accounts? Do they inspire you or make you feel badly about what you are or aren’t doing, how you do or don’t look? Be brutally honest in your answers and if these pages are bringing you down more than inspiring you – unfollow!
10. Avoid an all or nothing approach.
You should enjoy what you’re doing and some is better than none. Trying to figure out how to do it “perfectly” can be paralyzing. The most common way I see this show-up in my practice is the “weekend warrior” syndrome. Monday to Friday they eat really well, exercise, drink 2L of water.. but Friday night to Sunday night? #treatyourself And by Sunday night you’re feeling crappy and are excited to start eating well again Monday. Or maybe you stick to a strict plan for 6 weeks and then give up entirely. It’s so much healthier, both physically and psychologically, to be doing pretty well all of the time, with some wiggle room.
Bonus: There is no “best way” to do it.
Trust me I get trying to find the best way. I’ve been all over google and in my sports nutrition text books trying to do this just right. But the truth is, the best way to change your activity or nutrition is to find something you enjoy that you can stick with. If I was hating being at the gym, when a reason not to go came up I would take it. Right now, I’m loving it. It’s helping me with energy, motivation and mood. So right now it’s the best fit for me, but that may change and I’ll pivot (see #7). If there was one way to eat that worked for everyone, the world of nutrition would be a lot simpler! (See #4).
I think at times I’ve taken for granted the food and cooking knowledge that I have. I sometimes forget what it felt like when I was getting started. It was new, uncomfortable, I went on and off different plans and I felt confused or frustrated at times. When it comes to the gym, I still don't really know what I'm doing but I’m getting there and I’m loving learning it.
As a nutritionist, my goal is to use this information to remind myself to meet every client where they’re at. To ask them frequently, is there anything you don’t understand or need more information on? If we’re working together please let me know if anything feels uncomfortable, overwhelming or intimidating, we’ll find a way to make it work for you! It's my job to find out what motivates you, what works to keep you going, what feels good and what you enjoy and can sustain. My job is to listen and to help each client in the best way for them.
In Love & Health,